My cat has a morning ritual: He’ll meow in front of the treat cabinet, which now contains healthy snacks, then gobble down his first yums of the day before padding over to the carpet or the couch to lay down.
Ya know, because he worked so hard. After a long and tiring night of sleep and the grueling physical exertion of working his jaw muscles to eat, he needs a respite. A cat nap, if you will.
He’s not unique in this respect, and his morning siesta is just the first of many. Cats need their beauty rest after an exhausting day of lounging, sleeping and having their food literally placed before them.
A new study confirms what we already know — that cats are lazy little bastards — and even hints at new levels of laziness unbeknownst to us thus far.
Working hard or hardly working?
“Get a puzzle feeder,” they say. “Make ’em work a little for their food,” they say. “It’ll stimulate their instincts.”
Animal behaviorists have recommended toys like puzzle feeders and treat balls for years, prompted by research that shows animals enjoy “contrafreeloading,” a fancy way of saying when given a choice between free food and food in a puzzle feeder, animals will opt for the latter.
The behavior is consistent across many species of domestic and wild animals, from dogs and rats to chimpanzees and birds. Maybe it stimulates their urge to forage. Maybe it gives them something fun to do. Or maybe food just tastes better to animals when they’ve earned it.
Cats, however, aren’t contrafreeloaders. They want the easy yums.
That’s according to a new study by a University of California at Davis research team. Cats didn’t ignore the food puzzles entirely, but they showed a clear preference for the low-hanging fruit, so to speak.
“It wasn’t that the cats never used the food puzzle, they just used it less, ate less food from it, and typically would eat from the freely available food first,” said UC Davis’ Mikel Delgado, a co-author of the study.
As for why cats aren’t taken with puzzle feeders — besides their inherent laziness, of course — that question will take more studies to answer.
“There are different theories about why animals might contrafreeload, including boredom in captive environments, stimulating natural foraging behaviors, and creating a sense of control over the environment and outcomes,” Delgado said.
When it comes to cats, Delgado’s best guess is that puzzle feeders might just be the wrong game since it doesn’t stimulate their hunting instincts. Maybe the next study should involve small pieces of chicken and turkey tied to the ends of wand toys, so our mighty little hunters can catch their “prey” and dine like proper tigers.